Is Getting There Half the Fun?

A teleportation machine might be essential if you want to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the dilithium mining colony on Betazak Nine or conclude a trade agreement for Romulan ale. But back here on earth, do we really need or desire teleporters for our considerably more mundane existences? If we could get places instantaneously, and rid ourselves of travel entirely, would we?

Surprisingly, the answer may be “no.” Research from Patricia L. Mokhtarian and her collaborators, which I’ve been highlighting (here and here) shows that while we might want to cut back on some types of travel in some circumstances, travel itself might have considerable benefits. This is because of the burgeoning number of activities we can do while underway, but even more importantly because of our innate love of aspects of the travel experience itself. These can include adventure, variety, independence, control, status, buffer, escape, conquest, satisfaction of curiosity, the thrill of movement, etc.

Mokhtarian and her coauthors conducted? a survey in the San Francisco Bay area, and in a pair of papers (this one with Ilan Salomon and this with David T. Ory) examined the extent to which people like to travel and why.

Overall, most respondents possessed personality characteristics that we might hypothesize would contribute to a love of travel. Over 90 percent of the sample described themselves as being variety seekers (at least to a moderate degree), almost 90 percent called themselves at least somewhat adventurous, and 80 percent disagreed with the characterization that they like to stay close to home. Two-thirds agreed in whole or in part with the statement that they like to travel at high speeds. Fahrvergnügen, anyone?

Overall, even when instructed to ignore the benefits they get from arriving at their destinations, over 30 percent of the sample said they actually like short-distance travel (under 100 miles), versus only a little over ten percent who reported that they dislike it (the rest were neutral).

More than half of the respondents reported that at least sometimes they travel out of their way to take in scenery and new surroundings, explore new places, relax or just have fun. Over half admitted traveling more than strictly necessary, just for the enjoyment of it. On the other hand, there does seem to be a limit to wanderlust; few respondents reported that they travel without an ultimate destination in mind.

Almost half of the sample disagreed with the statement that travel time is generally wasted time. More than a third reported their commute trip serves a useful function, both because of things they get done on the trip and the trip’s psychological value as transition time. More than two-thirds disagreed with the statement that “the only good thing about traveling is arriving at your destination.” Nearly half agreed that “getting there is half the fun.”

The bottom line? Over 60 percent reported being happy with the amount they travel in their lives, with almost 10 percent wishing they spent more time traveling. Forget the teleporter; for those folks, should we bring back the horse and buggy?

As for attitudes towards specific travel modes, do you want the good news or the bad news? Okay, here’s the good news: the most popular form of travel was green and healthy walking/jogging/cycling, with an approval rating of over 60 percent.

Depending on your point of view, you may or may not find it heartening that private vehicle travel was a close second, with almost 60 percent saying they enjoy it.

And the bad news, at least for many of you out there? Only about 30 percent of the sample reported a liking for train/subway/light rail travel, and not even ten percent said they like traveling by bus. These numbers are sobering if you believe – like many transportation professionals, elected officials and others – that luring people onto mass transit is a key to solving our transportation problems. More on the public’s curious schizophrenia about mass transit (most laypeople that I speak to strongly support it – and would virtually never dream of riding it) another time.

Those with long commutes enjoy travel less than those with shorter commutes. In a sense, this goes counter to what we might expect; presumably, people who enjoy travel should choose work and home locations that are farther apart.

However, this finding might fit with an intriguing but controversial theory in transportation: that of the universal constant travel time budget. According to this hypothesis, we humans are somehow programmed to travel a certain amount of time per day – very roughly, about one hour. When this target is violated in either direction, we supposedly change our activity patterns to bring our travel budget into harmony with our primal needs.

Is the stuff you do merely froth on the ocean, dictated by the powerful undercurrent of your need to get to it? More on this from Mokhtarian and collaborator Cynthia Chen next time.

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  1. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    I walk to work with my dog. I live only 100 yds from my business. To exhaust my dog, we take a short backwards trip through a large forested park accross the street.

    So in the morning, we end up taking a 8 minute trip instead of a 2 minute commute. And the squirrels are on alert and know what for.

    For Teleporters, make sure any Flies are cleared out of the input chamber. Do you need to travel naked?–that would really anger some of the fundementalists and keep them on the bus.

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  2. marcus says:

    I think teleportation would be useful for the day by day transportation. It will be very nice if we could not spend our transportation daily time in traffic, but in other activities.

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  3. Dave Hodgkinson says:

    It is better to travel than to arrive.


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  4. Ian Kemmish says:

    “This is because of the burgeoning number of activities we can do while underway”

    Errr, no it isn’t. The “new” activities that people can do while travelling are all pale imitations of what they would be doing were they at home. Just as few people actively prefer dancing to sex, it seems reasonable to assume that few people would prefer travelling and doing something badly with interruptions to staying put and doing it properly.

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  5. Buzz Singer says:

    How could air travel be omitted? Perhaps the nightmarish experience that an air trip in the US now is, has put it off the radar in any preference poll.

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  6. Eric M. Jones says:

    During the first half of the 20th century, everyone knew that air travel was going to be either–

    1) Lighter than air craft, dreamy, luxurious and smooth or,
    2) Heavier than air craft, cramped, noisy and dangerous.

    Guess who won?

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  7. Chris says:

    To me, conflating traveling and commuting invalidates most of the results here. I *hate* commuting (perhaps because I have to drive and can’t read, etc. on public transportation) and think flying has become a barbaric way to travel but I don’t mind a comfortable train ride or even a coach bus for vacation.

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  8. Finn says:

    First, “travel” and “commuting” are separate activities in most people’s minds, so conflating the two and then wondering why people who like to travel dislike long commutes makes no sense.

    Second, you’ve failed to notice the likely connection between the popularity of “getting there is half the fun” and going out of their way to explore on the one hand, and the nearly identical amount of people who prefer to travel by driving themselves on the other hand. You don’t get to wander off on side trips when your mode of travel is a commercial flight, nor is it any fun to be crammed into a cramped airline seat for hours on end.

    Third, you haven’t considered the likelihood that 2/3 of respondents like to travel at high speeds because it decreases the amount of time spent in transit. If you ask people whether they’d prefer to travel cross-country instantly by transporter or over 6 hours by commercial flight, I’m sure you’d get a different answer.

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